Jonah 3:1-5.10; Ps.25; 1Cor.7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20
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Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai:
Call to Repentance
Conversion and vocation form the central theme of today’s message. Vocation means call; while conversion literally means repentance. So, in today’s liturgy we are called to repentance. The first reading speaks of the conversion of Nineveh through the instrumentality of Jonah. In the gospel, Jesus calls us to repent and believe in the Good News. He also called Simon and Andrew, James and John to follow him and immediately they responded and followed him. Therefore, in repentance we make a u-turn not in any direction but in the direction of Christ. Jesus is the one calling us and so let us follow him. If we follow him we shall reign with him in paradise. Who you follow determines what follows you; if we follow him surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives and we shall dwell with him forever.
Today we are called to repent and not repaint. This repentance is not a cosmetic conversion but a deep seated one. Cosmetics are only for show; they are not criteria for authentic beauty. Thus, cosmetic conversion doesn’t last and it does not reflect true change. In the first reading the people of Nineveh repented – they had a change of mind. This change of mind was reflected in their change of attitude. You cannot claim that you have repented yet your behavior has not changed. True repentance must result in change of actions. The full biblical definition of repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action. Dan 4:37 speaks of the conversion of Nebuchadnezzar the king Babylonian, who through a series of unusual circumstances turned to the King of heaven. He realized that in a kingdom only the will of the king prevails. Beloved, conversion is seen in our attitude towards God and man. For example the conversion of the Ethiopian treasurer ( Acts 8:26-40 ), of Paul (Acts 9:1-22 ), of Cornelius (Acts 10), of Lydia ( 16:13-15 ) the Philippian jailer( 16:19-34 ) and many others. These men changed completely not partially.
In the Gospel Jesus calls us to repentance. This call is an essential part of the proclamation of the kingdom: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” This call leaves us with the two forms of conversion. First conversion and second conversion. St. Ambrose sums this into “water and tears” the water of Baptism and the tears of repentance. First conversion is addressed first to those who do not yet know Christ and his Gospel. Baptism is the most accepted ritual for the first conversion. For it is by faith in the Gospel and by Baptism that one renounces evil and gains salvation. The second conversion is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church through the paths of penance and renewal. Regular confession is a necessity in this regard. Peter’s conversion after he had denied his master three times and his threefold affirmation of love bear witness to this. Thus, through constant penance and renewal we sustain the life of faith.
Again, the message of repentance must not end with Jesus. As a matter of fact, Jesus continued from where John the Baptist stopped. The gospel says “After John was arrested, Jesus came …preaching repentance …” So, in today’s gospel Jesus recruited four men who will be sent out just as Jonah was sent to Nineveh in the first reading. Like these men all of us who are Christians have been recruited as teachers, apostles and evangelizers. We have been recruited to go preach to nations and in the streets. We must continue this message of repentance. We must not change the content of evangelization just as many have done today. All the prophets preached repentance, Jonah preached repentance, John preached repentance, Jesus preached repentance but today, ministers are preaching materialism and lust. Little wonder men have become so wicked and unconverted. Beloved, how will they be converted if we don’t preach conversion and repentance.
In the same vein, how are we going to preach if we do not study the word of God? Precisely because of this on this Third Sunday in ordinary Pope Francis invites us to devote ourselves to the study, celebration, and dissemination of the Word of God. He calls it “Sunday of the Word of God”. Beloved in Christ, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ” says St. Jerome. The bible is the primary text book for Christianity. It is first point of reference for theology or God talk. It is the slate for learning the ABCD of the Faith. Today’s Christians want power but lack knowledge. God help us.
Again, these men were fishermen; but Jesus said to them I will make you fishers of men. They were called from fishing to be fishers of men; but many of us have gone back to fishing. I am not saying that fishing is sinful rather that ‘we must not major on the minor and minor on the major’. Our background and skills must not be at the detriment of our primary goal. Many persons called into ministry would have been very excellent if only they left their nets and followed Jesus. Many carried their nets along, their old ways, their old mentality and their fetish background. Just like Jonah who was sent to preach to Nineveh but never wanted to go to Nineveh because he haboured hidden sins from his past. Jonah hated Nineveh – woe to the city of Nineveh(Nahum3:1-4). Some of us though Christians for many years we still habour hatred for years, we habour certain sins for years and this has corrupted the expression of our faith and ministry. We too need conversion!
The second reading makes us to understand that we have very little time at our disposal and we need to use it well. The people of Nineveh immediately responded to the call to repentance, the men called followed immediately we too must respond to this call to repentance with immediate effect. We need to renounce the world. These men left everything and followed Jesus. A disciple must leave everything. The Church is a place where we learn to leave everything; it is a place where we learn the true meaning of temporal goods. Don’t kill yourself over material things; St Paul says in the second reading that the form of this world is passing away our time is now short we must now learn the ways of detachment. Father, create in us a new heart and a new spirit. Amen
Fr Galadima Bitrus, OSA:
The Transformative Power of the Word of God
Pope Francis in 2019 dedicated the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time to be the Sunday of the Word of God. On this Sunday, the readings emphasize the transformative power of the Word of God, how it brings about conversion and salvation, faith and discipleship.
In the 1st Reading (Jonah 3:1-5.10), we see the efficacy of the Word of God on the inhabitants of Nineveh, who, at the preaching of Jonah, undertook the journey of conversion. They believed God and so proclaimed a fast, putting on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them, thus saving the enormously large city from imminent destruction.
The case of Nineveh demonstrates a God who seeks us out to save us, a God who does not take pleasure in the death of anyone, even of the wicked, but desires all to be saved. As Ezekiel also preached: “As I live – declares the Lord – it is not my desire that the wicked should die, but that the wicked turn from his ways and live…” (Eze 33:11; cf. 18:23).
The 2nd Reading (1 Corinthians 7:29-31) reflects an eschatological urgency and offers us a perspective of the man who walks no longer by sight but by faith (cf. 2 Cor 5:7), a man who now understands the form of things in this world as passing and so gives way to the form of things in their eternal perspective whereby there will be no longer such things as marriage, mourning, buying and selling, etc.
Practically, Saint Paul here urges us as people of faith to change our mentality (metanoia), from the way we see things in this world to a heavenly mentality, learning to live our life here on earth as a sort of training (preparation) for the imminent coming life.
The Gospel Reading comes from Mark 1:14-20, a passage which features Jesus bringing to completion the unfinished mission of his forerunner, John the Baptist, as well as the proper beginning of his own mission.
After Jesus’ baptism by John and his forty days wilderness experience (Mark 1:9-13; cf. Mt 4:1-11; Lk 4:1-13), John was arrested. Hence, Jesus had to pick up from where John had stopped and continued with the proclamation of the good news of God, characterized essentially by preaching the imminent coming of God’s kingdom, a call to urgent repentance and belief in the good news he was preaching (Mark 1:14-15; cf. Mt 4:12-17; Lk 4:14-15).
He then proceeded to gather disciples who will assist him in this mission, beginning with the call of the fishermen, Simon and his brother Andrew, James and his brother John, who were fishing along the Sea of Galilee (Mark 1:16-20; cf. Mt 4:18-22; Lk 5:1-11; Jn 1:35-42). Jesus called them to become instead fishers of men.
Galilee, the region north of Judea and Samaria, is where Jesus spent most of his life and carried out most of his ministry. It was more rural and less Hellenized than Judea in the 1st century and was strongly Jewish. Archaeological findings reveal a concentration of Jewish identity markers such as ritual baths (mikve’ot), stone vessels and coins minted without human images.
The preaching of the kingdom of God reflects the concept that God is the true king (see Ps 5:2; 10:16; 103:19, etc.) and indicates a promise of an ideal state (see Zech 14:9). The call to repent (Greek metanoia; Heb. niḥām) connotes a sense of being sorry and a change of mentality. To believe or have faith (Greek pisteuō, pistos; Heb. ’aman, from which comes “amen”) essentially means to have an attitude of trust because the one being trusted is faithful or trustworthy (see Ps 71:22; Neh 9:38).
Later on (especially from 2ndTemple Judaism), faith or belief came to also mean “conviction”, “confession” or even “conversion” (see Jdt 14:10; Wis 1:2; 16:26; Sir 1:14; 2:6).
Jesus’ method of seeking out disciples is similar to Elijah’s call of Elisha (1 Kgs 19:19-21). In both cases, the called disciples respond with urgency, leaving their parents immediately in order to follow their teacher or master. This contrasts with the method of Greek and Roman philosophical circles as well as Jewish Rabbinic circles, where students sought teachers rather than being called by them.
In Jesus’ preaching and call of his disciples, therefore, we see God, once more, as one who seeks out his people, a shepherd who goes out seeking the sheep wherever they may be.
Thus, wherever you are, whoever you are, just know that Jesus cares about you and wants you to come with him. Just as he called his first four disciples from catching fish and made them fishers of men, he seeks you and wishes to send you to seek out others like you, that they too may experience the joy of conversion, the joy of changing their mentality and trusting in the promises of the Good News which is God’s own Word.
Fr. Paul Oredipe:
“At once ….. they followed Him” – So must we too
Today, the third Sunday in ordinary time, as declared by Pope Francis is “Sunday of the Word of God”. Providentially, the Word declared today is – “At once ….. they followed Him”.
The Gospel passage of today poses God’s challenge in personal terms. Jesus called Simon Peter and Andrew. “At once they left their nets and followed him.” James and John left their father “and went after him”. What would our response be if confronted with this immediate call to give up everything and follow Christ?
We see the would-be apostles, Simon and Andrew, called to make a radical decision about the rest of their lives. They were fishermen, busy with their trade, casting nets, but we do not hear that they caught any fish. Probably on this particular day, they were going through a state of depression and near-despair. It was in this state of mind that they heard the word of God addressed to them by Jesus: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of souls” (Mark 1:17). They left their nets at once and followed Jesus.
Four people made a huge decision in their lives, to leave everything behind and go off to follow Jesus. The gospel makes it sound so simple and easy. Jesus calls and Peter and Andrew follow. Jesus calls and James and John leave their boats, their nets and their father and go off to follow Jesus. It sounds unbelievable. They left everything and followed this man. What a risk. What a decision.
Yet, it can be that every one of those disciples would not say the beginning was the easy part. It was the days that came after that – those were the tough ones. Later on, Jesus will challenge the disciples. He will challenge their attitudes about mercy and forgiveness; about real greatness in serving others; about their attitudes toward the poor and the outcast. He will speak of division in the family; and He will talk about the cross and self-denial. Those were the tough days for Peter and Andrew and James and John and the others.
In principle, we might be willing to obey. But in practice, there would be our family, the mortgage, a job, unfinished business to be completed first, an interest or pastime we would miss badly. Modern life is full of conflicting claims on our time and commitment, fuller than it was in the time of Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John.
In a way, our position genuinely is more difficult. But we cannot blame society for our difficulties. The truth is that most of us, perhaps all of us, have been ensnared by the material world, by our own hopes and fears, by the attitudes of contemporary society.
The Gospel has always been there, challenging us, but we have let ourselves become deaf to the prophets and to the Lord.
Mark’s account of Jesus calling his first disciples is very brief. This suggests the hurriedness and urgency of the call. “Jesus said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.” What about Jesus would make fishermen follow him? Why would Zebedee’s sons even leave their father behind in order to follow Jesus? What made them abandon their nets then, and follow Jesus? Jesus certainly was not a fisherman. Nazareth was not even near the water. But something in Jesus words and manner hooked them. Zebedee’s sons even left their boat and father behind in order to follow Him.
Jesus seemed to have great respect for those fishermen. He knew they were full of fishing skills and good sense. He did not tell them those skills would be useless, but that from now on they would be catching people. They would know the right kind of bait to use, the story that would touch a heart, the honest testimony that would bring another soul to the Lord.
Just as they were “hooked” by Jesus, others would come to the Lord by the strength of their testimony. We too need to become fishers of people. God continues to call people to Himself in many ways. There are just as many people being called to the priesthood and religious life today as there were fifty years ago.
How can we be the kind of fishers of people that can encourage those being called to respond? How can we respond ourselves? What “fishing” techniques could be used in catching people? Why would the words of fishermen be credible words to the people in the time of Jesus? Did it have to do with their profession or something else?
Whose words would be the most likely to touch you and help you follow Jesus? Who could be deeply influenced by our words? How can we encourage those around us to respond to God’s call when it leads to priesthood, religious life or other ministries within God’s Church?
In practice, few of us will be called to leave our daily lives behind entirely. But we should not let this be an excuse for becoming trapped in a worldly outlook from which we cannot escape. If we cannot live without our shopping, our possessions or people around us, then we have become over-attached to the things of this world and detached from God.
The acid test is this: if God did take everything away, would we still love Him above all else? Sadly, not if we love things more than we love our Creator.
Jesus’ call to us comes to us over and over again in so many different situations. Sometimes, it is a joy and a pleasure to respond. Sometimes, it is in answering that call to prayer or worship that we find real joy and peace. But, at other times, we will find the call difficult – that other person, that illness we can’t deal with, trying to figure out why something is happening the way it is, being able to forgive after so much hurt.
Saint Paul said, “those who have to deal with the world should not become engrossed in it.” As a new year and even a new century gets under way, this is a timely warning to us all. Let God be our all-in-all, our stronghold and our hope. God’s call to follow and serve Him often takes us to places we would never have dreamt of going.
Jonah’s call in the first reading took him to Nineveh. For the Jew of the first century BC, Nineveh represented the seat of godlessness, immorality and corruption. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire that had conquered and colonized the kingdom of Judah, looted and destroyed the Temple, and carried the notables of the people into exile. It was a big metropolitan city where the social and economic law of the survival of the fittest reigned supreme. Materialism expressing itself in all forms of immorality, corruption and crime was the order of the day in Nineveh.
For pious Jews like Jonah, Nineveh was the godforsaken city, the highway to perdition where evil reigned without any hope of change. For them Nineveh was a hopeless case, peopled by lost souls without the slightest hope of regaining God’s favour. No wonder Jonah objected to being sent there. As far as he was concerned, the mission to Nineveh was nothing but an exercise in futility. The big surprise in the story is that as soon as the “godforsaken” people of Nineveh heard the word of God, they received it with eagerness, repented with sincerity, and regained God’s mercy and forgiveness.
“When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.” God is so very merciful. We are often given much more than we deserve. God remains faithful to us even when we are unfaithful.
A new world (the Kingdom of God) has arrived. That new world comes in the person of Jesus. We are asked to respond by changing our way of life, and to follow Him.
We come here to begin a new week. We come here to renew our profession of faith – to say once again that we are followers of Jesus Christ. And we need these beginnings, we need these positive times and celebrations, because we know that we will all face challenges and difficult situations where it will not be easy to live out our discipleship.
Jonah was not sent to the people of Israel who were believers already, neither are we called to cater for the interest of good churchgoers alone. God invites us to bring the Good News to unimaginable places and “impossible” situations.
The good news for us is that these “hopeless” cases are not too hopeless after all. For if even Nineveh could turn back to God so can they. But what we hear and what we do here can strengthen us and prepare us. Hopefully, we can pray with one another and for one another.
If we really want to follow Jesus, we have to begin to listen to what He says, to try to understand His values, to see how He lived, how He acted, what He did and then we have to begin to shape our lives according to the way He lived, how He acted, what He said.
“COME, FOLLOW ME” “Repent, and believe the Good News.”
On this Sunday of the Word of God, may the amazing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the everlasting love of God the Father and the sweet fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen. May the Word of God continue to guide and lead us all always. Amen
Fr. Evaristus Okeke:
Repentance – Immediate and Urgent
Bible Guide: _O Lord, make me know your ways_ (Ps.25:4)
It will be unjust for a lecturer to abandon his duty of impacting knowledge on the students, only to show up on examination day to examine the students on what he/she never taught them. It will equally be wrong for a parent to punish a child for doing something the parent had not previously warned the child against. In like manner, it will be very ungodly if God should allow any human being to perish without first giving the person an opportunity to repent.
The focus of today’s liturgy is to re-echo the fact that God does not desire that any one should perish. For this reason, he gives all the opportunity to repent. Before judgment, there is teaching; before condemnation, there is correction. With this process, we come to understand that hell is not a place for those who ever offended God but for those who willingly refuse to accept the Mercy and Love of God. It is incorrigibility and obstinacy in sin that leads one to hell. We will not miss heaven because we have sinned but because we jettison God’s opportunity for us to repent. Heaven is a choice and same with hell.
Consequently, today’s liturgy teaches us that our response to God’s call to repentance should be immediate and generous. None of these is negligible. In the first reading, the Lord sent Jonah to reveal to the people of Nineveh that destruction awaits them as a consequence of their misdeeds. A time limit of 40 days was given. This number was symbolic, signifying time. What was expected of the Ninevites was a repentance that is smeared with urgency.
This is something we really need to pay attention to. We are not unfamiliar with a sense of urgency in prayer. Sometimes when we make prayers of petition, we communicate time-frame to God in such a manner that outside the time frame, the desired answer to our petition may no longer be necessary. Urgency makes us pray hard and for those who are not strong in faith, it causes them to run from pillar to post.
Unfortunately, we hardly transfer this same urgency to our need for repentance. Often times I have met people who say that they have not being receiving Holy Communion because they have not had the chance to go for confession. When I try to explain to them that they do not have to wait for Saturday or any other allotted time for confession; that is, that they can walk up to a priest at any time for confession, they do not seem to be relieved. Repentance that should be greeted with urgency, is often times done at leisure time.
When Jonah preached the message of repentance to the people of Nineveh, all of them without exception of age; including their animals embraced conversion. Scripture says “they proclaimed a fast”. This is like a royal decree that leaves no one with the choice of acting otherwise – a sign of generous repentance. For our conversion to be generous, we must repent with an attitude of no reservation. This means, a willingness to abandon sinful life completely and embrace the new life of Christ.
Repentance does not mean to offload our hearts of sin so that we may have enough space to entertain more sins. Repentance is not something we do only when we are tired of a committing a particular sin or when we are sure that there is no longer opportunity of committing a sin. When we confess our sins without a firm purpose of amendment or we delay going for confession because we know we are not yet ready to stop sinning, then our repentance is not generous. It is not generous because it harbours an attitude of reservation.
In the gospel reading, we encountered Jesus’ call of his first four disciples. But looking deeply, this call of Jesus and the response of the disciples speaks volume about repentance. Now, conversion does not only mean to move from sin to holiness; it also mean to grow in our love for God; to grow in our spirituality. The first four disciples of Jesus were hitherto fishermen. There is nothing sinful about fishing occupation; yet they needed conversion. They needed to be more conscious of God’s purpose for their lives – that was what Jesus meant by saying: “I will make you fishers of men”. Without realizing and embracing this new life, the disciples will be living lives of mediocrity.
So when we hear the message of repentance, we should not only consider the sins we harbor in our hearts but also access how steady we are growing spiritually. With a sense of urgency, the disciples followed Jesus; with a sense of generosity, they left their family and occupation to follow Jesus. Repentance is not repentance without urgency and immediacy.
A common string that seems to affect the senses of urgency and generosity in our response to God’s call is attachment to the things of this world. In the second reading, St. Paul does not deny the attractiveness of the world but he truly reveals that worldly glamour is fast passing away. The fact is we have been created to be able to live beyond this world. If we hold tenaciously to the things of this world, a time comes when we will be stranded.
Beloved, none of us bargained our coming into this world and none of us is able to bargain when we will leave this world. Just one sermon of Jonah was enough for the people of Nineveh. We may have to ask ourselves: what do we make of the many homilies and religious teachings we hear on a daily basis. It is not enough to clap or say: “ _Fada preach well today_ ”, we need to immediately and generously make movements – from sin to holiness and from holiness to higher holiness. By so doing, we will be partners in the kingdom. God Bless You!